Ag ordinance may undergo changes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 20, 2005

JACKSON – A more efficient operation is the desired outcome of the Voluntary Agricultural Board during a newly scheduled public hearing regarding proposed changes to the Northampton Voluntary Agricultural District ordinance.

According to Heather Lifsey of the Northampton County Cooperative Extension Center, due to inefficiency in current application procedures, some changes need to be implemented, among which is relieving the Northampton County Planning Department from certain administrative responsibilities.

&uot;The current Volunteer Ag District ordinance states that Northampton County is responsible for sending annual reports to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, when in fact this responsibility falls under the Agricultural Advisory Board,&uot; Lifsey said.

Since the Northampton County office of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service originally drafted the ordinance and has direct contact with landowners, Lifsey said that the Voluntary Ag Board found it more appropriate to work through them as opposed to the Planning Department.

The ordinance was designed to help promote the preservation of farmland in Northampton County so that properly managed farms would be protected from non-farm development and other negative impacts as development and growth increase, thereby recognizing the importance of agriculture to the economic and cultural life of the county.

&uot;In Layman’s terms it provides another layer of protection to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits by informing non-farming neighbors and potential land purchasers that the participating farm may emit noise, dust, odors etcetera,&uot; Lifsey said.

&uot;For instance, if you’re moving from the city, you might not know any better that the farmer who owns the field next to you, come April, will be planting seed or tilling the ground at two or three in the morning or that the forest of trees behind your property would be cut down for wood. That kind of thing tends to upset people,&uot; she said.

&uot;The ordinance works both ways. The more informed people are about the existence and operation of crops, livestock, forestry and horticulture, the less likely the instance of conflict because people know what they’re getting into.

Although there are regulations that must be met by farmers participating in the program, involvement is voluntary and may be terminated at any time.

Presently, in order for farmland to qualify for the program it must be real property that is participating in the farm present-use tax value program according to the North Carolina General Statutes, be certified by the Northampton County Soil and Water Conservation District as being a farm on which at least 2/3 of the land is comprised of soils with specific characteristics and be managed in accordance with the erosion-control practices set forth by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The farmland must also be the subject of a conservation agreement between Northampton County and the landowner that prohibits non-farm use or land development for at least 10 years with the exception of a three-house creation allowance.

Lifsey stated that if the changes were approved, the advisory board would work through the Extension Center to handle record keeping, correspondence and application procedures, including the annual submission of reports to the Commission of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The public hearing regarding the changes is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, February 7 at the Commissioner’s Meeting Room in Jackson.